A rough rag with mandolin carrying the melody, standup bass way up front, and chunky rhythm guitar. The players are me, Ryan Shaw and Paul McCue.
Recorded live in the park on a sunny Sunday.
Ze Frank used the Joy Drops recording of “French Blues” for one of his comic masterworks, Why The Republicans Have No Heart (And Democrats Have No Balls).
I can sweat for months over a video performance and not get 500 plays, and this has nearly 50,000 plays so far. Sweet deal.
Here’s a slow rag I played on bottleneck guitar. I picture sitting on the porch with a lemonade on a day when it’s too hot to move fast.
There are plenty of blemishes left in the sound. Most recordings try to isolate the music and eliminate background sound. I am experimenting with doing the opposite, because being able to hear the moment and the context gives the music emotional kick. But I don’t know if that is distracting and annoying.
I learned it from Turner’s Banjo Journal No 10. The original was probably perky instead of slow. You can find the sheet music I worked from here: http://www.classicbanjo.com/tutors/TBJ/TBJ-10.pdf. This is probably from the early 1880s.
I was inspired by “Dark Was the Night” by Blind Willie Johnson, the Ry Cooder soundtrack for “Paris, Texas”, Ben Harper’s and John Fahey’s weissenborn playing.
This recording is permissively licensed under Creative Commons Attribution. Have at it as long as you give credit. The best type of credit is to link back to this post, at http://soupgreens.com/2012/08/22/brooklet-schottische/ .
This comes up because I sometimes play the 1882 Rough On Rats jingle.
The Joy Drops played a rockin party last night. At first I was worried that our good time music wasn’t emotionally distant enough for SF, but that was needless. We even got a big crowd of ladies up to do karaoke on “I want to be loved by you,” the Marilyn Monroe tune. They were fun, out of tune, loud, perfect in every way.
Thanks to the hostess Natalie Zahr for having us.
Back in May of 2008, when I was living in Venice Beach, I blogged a YouTube video of an 1899 ragtime piece. Yesterday I was coming out of the subway in San Francisco and the banjo-mandolin player from that video was busking.
In person he’s a very good player. Dennis Pash is the guy’s name.
Here’s my photo from the subway:
Here’s the original video:
The San Francisco Marathon goes through Golden Gate Park, and the organizers hired musicians to make it festive. The Joy Drops got booked. The band was standup bass, trumpet/french horn, and guitar/mandolin/singing. Racers start early, so the gig went from 6:45 AM to 10.
The organizers put us in a Chinese-style pagoda on a small island on the far edge of a marsh beside the road, in woods a few hundred feet from the runners. It was such an odd location that as we were setting up we thought we might actually be lost.
We didn’t know we were in the right place until a couple runners escorted by police went by on the road, off in the distance. There was mist on the water and almost nobody in earshot during the first few songs.
It was like being paid to play by ourselves far away from any listeners.
Gradually the number of racers increased, the mist burned off, and the band heated up. Runners would look around to see where the noise was coming from , turn and gawk, and give us a big whole-arm wave.
On the island a few people happened by. Parents with strollers stopped off for their kids to watch us. An older Chinese couple came by and stayed a while, the woman clapping very loudly as if she was communicating something.
It was an epically easy gig since nobody heard us for longer than a few seconds. Like playing for amnesiacs, the people who heard us weren’t in a position to know whether we sucked most of the time or just at that moment. We skipped around the set list, repeating songs that needed practice, trying out new tunes that we had never rehearsed before, telling jokes and laughing a lot.
We swapped stories about bad gigs. Ryan the bass player won: he played a swingers party on Valentine’s Day. There were tarps on the floor for the couples. He kept his eyes on his sheet music as much as humanly possible and during the breaks kept his distance from the hors d’oeuvres.
At 10 AM we were done playing for the day and I had a coffee at the boathouse nearby. The last stragglers were still passing.
I’m a better musician now than ten years ago. A lot.
Ten years ago I thought I had taken my abilities to the limit of what my talent would support, but what I’ve learned since then hasn’t changed my native talent, it’s all practical stuff that I could have acquired at any time before.
Ten years from now I suppose I’ll be able to repost this verbatim.
I thought talent was my main bottleneck rather than just time spent playing. The reason was that I didn’t have any idea of how much time it takes for each little increment in ability. Just playing and playing makes you better and better, but a tiny bit at a time. You need to play and play and play and play to improve enough to have something easily visible.
One of the big things I’ve learned is how far work will take you as a musician. If you shed every day of your life, you’ll get pretty decent.
For example there was a spot in a song that called for a solo and my solo just sucked. So I doubled down on that spot and tried out a million possibilities until I finally had a good idea for how to approach it, and then the solo played itself just fine. In the meantime my wife nearly left me because of the horrible racket, but you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.
2 out of 3 Joy Drops played Art Ark Gallery in San Jose last night. Good people watching – the women seemed to be competing for most outrageous shoes.
Tomorrow we’re playing by the pool in a park in San Rafael. I love summer gigging.
Q: How do you find a lead guitarist?
A: Wait until after he sees you before you take out the shotgun.
Yup, I made that one up myself.
Late in a long gig musicians often end up telling musician jokes. This is actually better than the other one I knew about guitar players.
The Joy Drops played three times lately.
Memorial Day we played at a BBQ in Berkeley. It was a perfect setup for us – beer, daylight, slack. The party had an art school faction and an average joe faction. The average joes hung out and dug it, the artists stayed away in droves. We played ok but just ok – I was rusty after a month off.
The day after we played a bar called The Pour House in the Tenderloin in San Francisco. We were in excellent form and rocked the house. You could tell we did good because the bartender was happy about moving more drinks than normal.
Then we played Mojo Bicycle Cafe on Divisadero St in San Francisco. It’s half cafe, half bike store. This was just two of us, Noah on standup bass and me on guitar, vocals, and mandolin. Mojo has a great feeling to it. The front opens up, the people are casual, the flow just kills for some reason. Our first set was off but the second was strong, and that’s when the room was full.
Noah and I are playing as a duo again next month, at Art Ark Gallery in San Jose for First Friday on July 6. It was fun to do last night because I could really hear Noah’s playing. He had great tone and mood.
They do upscale African food, congolese and senegalese, and after the diners clear out the bar fills up. I like the place. Good vibe.
My solo act has turned into a four piece band, The Joy Drops. So I have hooked up a web site for the band:
The composition is credited to “Yama Sen (Arranged by J. A. Le Barge)”. I think Yama Sen is a pseudonym for Le Barge. Here’s him:
Thanks to paperclip design for the sheet music I learned it from:
I love this interview/riff/rant on participatory music by the stellar childrens’ musician Dan Zanes.
My booklet has the original sheet music from the old olden days with chords added to make it easier to jam on. It has an introduction talking about the tune in general. It has new sheet music for my own version of the song. This new notation has less extraneous detail and more white space, so is easier to read. There are transposed versions of the new notation for Bb instruments like trumpet and for F instruments like alto horn. My booklet also has the Lilypond source code for my own version.
I did this as a hack, I guess. It’s an experiment in making ebooks for music.
Download my booklet here: http://soupgreens.com/africapolka/AfricanPolka-book.pdf
My Lilypond source code is also at http://soupgreens.com/africapolka/African Polka.ly
My solo gigs at an upscale local grocery chain called Andronico’s have bloomed into five weeks of steady bookings for a 3-4 piece band. It’s a neat idea: they’re in the food business, and food is a sensual experience that goes with music. Us live human musicians help to make their customers passionate. I respect that this is a solid business case for performers, Napster or not.
We’ll play noon-3 at the San Anselmo store the first four Saturdays in March and in the Berkeley store on the last Saturday. The band will have trumpet, alto horn, guitar, violin, dobro, mandolin, and standup bass (though not all at every gig).
A fringe benefit for the musicians is getting to wisecrack about groceries. The down side is interrupting your solo to help with bagging.
Mantra: always be gigging. When you get in the flow of playing out a lot, that’s when the performances get good. No one thing makes your music good. It’s about the flow.
I’m playing the grocery store again next Saturday, this time with Paul McCue on trumpet and Rolf Wilkinson on guitar and singing. It’s the same chain, Andrononico’s, this time in San Anselmo instead of North Berkeley.
On Sunday I’m playing a cafe in Berkeley called Nomad. I’ll be doing dobro and mandolin with a bluesy singer named James Byfield.
After that, Friday night March 9 at a bar in Alameda called the Frog and Fiddle. James and I will be joined by our friends Huntley and Cal on standup bass and violin. Here’s a sample recording (with bad sound) from a rehearsal:
Next after that is March 25 – Paul and I will play at the Oakland marathon. There will be an endless stream of exhausted but exhilarated people going by. It’s a morning gig out in the sunshine. No money but the runners whoop and wave. It’s fun and I get a tiny bit better.
This is a spoken word radio piece – http://www.forward.com/workspace/assets/audio/BESHKIN_SACRED_HARP.mp3.
About a year-and-a-half ago, I went through a devastating breakup and, soon after, began a love affair with perhaps the strangest hobby an ex-yeshiva girl could imagine: Sacred Harp singing.
Surely, in 1759, when Joseph Hart wrote the words “Speak and let the worst be known, Speaking may relieve thee,” in the hymn that later became “The Grieved Soul,” he did not mean, “You may feel better if you call your Upper West Side therapist.” But that was what I heard. The song “Poland,” with the words “God of my life, look gently down, Behold the pains I feel,” was not really about a breakup. But from the depths of my grief, it sounded as if it was written just for me. After awhile, however, all this comfort I was taking in Sacred Harp music began to make me a little uncomfortable.
What was I doing? There is no doubt that I have managed to lose my place in the Jewish world, and each year it gets harder to return. I’m nearing 40. I don’t have kids. I always figured I would stake my claim somewhere in the Jewish community. Instead, here I was, singing about salvation in a dimly lit church, a few feet away from a granite bowl of holy water.
IMO 6 am is the *perfect* time for recording my loudest mandolin playing in a hotel room. What does the guy in the next room know.
Sleep? Wha? #sorryboutthat #jetlag
1930s publicity shots, 1870s make believe.
From the photo book Vintage Photographs of Arcane Americana
I transposed the sheet music for an old tune called Jenny Lind Polka so that I could easily jam on this song with players of various different instruments.
This song was popularized in 1846 by a dance instructor named Allen Dodworth, who is also responsible for inventing a way to waltz in 5/4. Here’s that 1852 original in the Library of Congress. I recorded a composition for dancing his waltz, a pice called “Dodworth’s Five Step”, on three occasions, including once in my Ghost Solos EP. I learned Jenny Lind Polka from a relatively modern transcription in “The Fiddler’s Fake Book.”
In case my transpositions are useful to others, here is my sheet music:
That’s a single multi-page PDF with a different key on each page. It has the following parts:
|G||Concert pitch: fiddle, mandolin, guitar, etc.|
|D||F: french horn|
|A||Bb: trumpet, clarinet, tenor sax, soprano sax|
|E||Eb: baritone sax, alto sax|
|tab||tablature for guitar players who don’t read notation|
For people who work with digital instruments, here’s MIDI:
For people who might want to edit the original Sibelius source file, here’s that:
Here’s a version I found on YouTube that’s not exactly the same but close enough:
More shots from my blockbuster performance at the grocery store. It is with great pride that I have so little pride.